Poor Writer's Blog

We all know what gatekeepers are in the publishing world. If you've ever written something you consider to be pretty good -- which means better than 70% of what you see on the shelves in your genre -- then you have a good idea of what it takes to get over, around and through these guardians of the publishing world.

I confess I was very naive at the start. I pictured something like the New York office where Jack Nicholson sat as a line editor at some swanky house like Penguin or Random House. That movie made a great impression on me.. Agents were writers' Mother Hens, scurrying around setting up book signings, TV appearances, dinners with celebs, coddling and coaxing cranky authors on their way to world renown. But, alas, that turned out to be only in Hollywood fantasies. In the real world, as I soon discovered, talent alone, beautifully crafted prose, burning issues brought to light, painstaking research and labor and creative sparks of near genius were definitely not the deciding factor for success in the literary world.

Gatekeepers held all the cards at the beginning. The whole process of going from creative spark to completed work began by knocking on the door of some reader/intern at Agent X's office. These were all invisible people at first --just names and bios with maybe a face photo.

So you scanned the agency blurbs and sent off your opus with a light heart. Surely it would be treated with a modicum of care and considered fairly. Then when the silence echoed through the weeks and months until form letters churned out by the zillions began to clutter up your spam file, you figured it out. Submitting your writing to an agency is no different than showing up at a chorus cattle call. Your chances of making it through the selection cuts are about one in a trizillion when you add it all up. Forget reading all the How Tos and Tips You Need to Sign with an Agent. The best tip I learned from all those lean years? Expect nothing from a gatekeeper with their ink still wet on their English Lit diploma, or an Agent with less time and patience for generic newbies than a truck stop waitress working a double shift.

The only person on the planet that can navigate through the Book of the Dead is you. Meet people, hang out wherever writers, agents, buyers and readers hang out. Avoid groups of wannabes who have been working for ten years on the third chapter of their masterpiece War and Peace, the Sequel. Be brazen in promoting yourself. Always remember that no matter how we prize our craft, it is always about the dollar, the drum that wants beating. We caress our creative souls but cater to the forces that lead us down a commercial path.

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